Letter to the Editor

Private by

RE: “Democracy is not a right”

According to her recent opinion piece, McGill Tribune columnist Vicky Tobianah doesn’t think the events of the past few weeks indicate that Egyptians “want” democracy. Which begs the question, what exactly do Egyptians have to do to show that they “want” democracy? Do they need to do an interpretive dance in Tahrir Square? Do they have to rename the Pyramid of Giza, “Freedom Polyhedron”? Is there some kind of international “desire democracy” smoke signal they have failed to send? I would have thought that 18 days of pro-democracy protests, an ousted dictator, and a couple hundred martyrs for the cause would be sufficient proof that Egyptians “want” democracy. But apparently I am mistaken. Egyptians aren’t really calling for democracy when they call for democracy. They’re calling for lower food prices and an end to corruption. They only value democracy as an instrumental means to those ends.

The problem with this thesis is that democracy is pretty much only valued instrumentally, period. Parliament buildings, political ads, men in suits yelling at each other—these familiar trappings of democracy have very little intrinsic value in and of themselves. Political systems are merely instrumental mechanisms for distributing power and resources fairly. It is only because democracy is unparalleled in this regard that it is held in such high esteem.

The fact that the Egyptian protesters have been making material demands of their government is not a sign of backwardness; rather, it is a sign of civic engagement. Of course it may seem bizarre to privileged Westerners like ourselves that Egyptians view things like food prices as political concerns. But just because Egyptians are calling for food and we are calling for healthcare, does not mean they value or deserve democracy any less then we in North America do.

Tobianah notes near the end of her article that Egypt’s democratic transition is still in its infancy and may well be hijacked by the military. This is true. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the emergence of a new dictator in Egypt would be some kind of phony tragedy. The people of Egypt deserve democracy. They have already proven that.

Victoria Bonar

U0 Political Science